Last Updated on October 6, 2023
How to Unlock a Safe Without the Key or Combination
Safes are suppose to protect property, right? The sad news is that many of the inexpensive safes bought at big box stores or major online shopping sites offer very little protection, if any at all. This allows you to be able to open the safe without a key rather easily.
You can open a safe without a key three ways. In order of easiness: 1) Unlock the safe by getting a key made, 2) bypass the safe solenoid in an electronic safe, and 3) bypass/ break the key cylinder. The safe’s solenoid can be bypassed by bouncing it or by a magnet. The safe’s key cylinder can be bypassed by picking, drilling, or just punching it out to remove it.
What Types of Safes Can be Opened Without a Key?
All safes can be bypassed, but some are significantly easier than others, and some should be left to a professional.
Inexpensive home safes, those for less than a few hundred dollars, are only meant to keep children out, keep temptation away from basically honest people, or to offer some basic fire protection. They are NOT designed to protect their content.
These types of safes can often be identified because they come with a override key.
Safes that can be opened using a bypass key (in case the electronic lock or dial lock fails) are inherently weak by design. A keyed lock can be easily bypassed by finesse or by force. These are the safes we are addressing in this article as they can be bypassed via the keyway or other methods.
Don’t confuse key-override safes with those that need BOTH a key and combination entered to open the safe. If a safe requires both a key and the combination entered to open the safe, the combination must be known in order to open it without the key.
In many of the techniques used to open a safe without a key, the safe will not be functional afterwards. However this is acceptable because the cost to hire a professional to open and restore the safe to functionality far exceeds the cost of just replacing a cheap safe.
Trying to break into a high end safe, though, doesn’t make sense. Not only will it take forever, if you can at all, but a good safe should be opened by a locksmith and then repaired so it can be used for many years to come.
In all cases, if you want to get in the quickest way possible and not be bothered with it, a locksmith can be used to get you in quickly and in the best way possible. For an idea on pricing see our article How Much Does it Cost for a Locksmith to Open a Safe.
How to Get a Key Made
Very often, you can get a safe key made using a locksmith and it’s very affordable. So why try anything else?
How to Bypass the safe Solenoid
What is a Solenoid
The bolt work of safes is held in place by a pin or bolt so that it can’t be retracted by the handle until the pin or bolt is slid out of the way.
In cheap electronic safes, they are held in place by small pins attached to a solenoid that is wrapped by a spring (photo). The pressure from the spring holds the pin in place against the bolt work so the safe cannot be opened, but in cheap safes, the spring is very weak.
When the correct code is entered, the solenoid is charged. This pulls the pin back, compressing the spring, and retracting the pin, so the bolt work can now function, and the safe can be open.
Opening a Safe by “Bouncing” it
Because cheap safes have solenoids with weak springs, you can often bounce the pin up and down so that it no longer holds the bolt work.
This technique takes some timing and will only be successful on very inexpensive electronic safes.
The best way to bounce a small safe is to use a rubber mallet (you can even use the ball of your hand).
Hit the top of safe with the mallet or the ball of your hand, and just after the strike turn the safe knob quickly. Repeat several times.
The shock of the hit may be all it takes to bounce the solenoid out of position
Tips for Opening a Safe Using Bouncing:
- For maximum bounce, if possible place the small safe on a material that gives way, like on a bed mattress or couch cushion.
- Don’t apply pressure to the safe knob before the strike, this will put pressure on the pin as well and hold it in place.
Opening a Safe Using a Rare Earth Magnet
Sentry safes became infamous when it was shown that they can be easily opened using a very strong rare earth magnet. But several other brands of cheap safes, those made of a plastic casings or very thin sheet metal, can also be opened this way.
The goal is to use the magnet to grab the solenoid pin, and pull it away from the bolt work.
This can be difficult if you do not know exactly where the solenoid is.
Tips for Opening a Safe Using a Rare Earth Magnet
- !Warning! Rare earth magnets are VERY strong. They may destroy any electronics they get near. They may break/crush fingers caught between them and a metal object.
- You will need a magnet with at least 600 lb pull force (Note: the cost of the magnet will likely exceed the cost of the safe).
- Wrap the magnet in a cloth. This will allow you to more easily slide around the door of the safe.
- Listen for a click. That is the solenoid being pulled back.
- That click is the solenoid being pulled back. When you hear that click, jiggle the handle repeatedly to open.
How to Open a Safe’s Lock
A safe’s lock is the weak point of a safe. You can try several things to get past that lock.
Really cheap safes can be picked open by even the most inexperienced amateur and without needing a pick set. Just find any long, narrow, slender object. Slide it into the hole and jerk it back and forth quickly while applying a little bit of torque (turning pressure). You may be surprised.
However, many will require too much skill for the novice.
Punch It / Shear It
Punching the keyhole is trying to smack the lock into the safe or smash the pins so the lock turns (this is often harder than shearing because you need to go through the door metal).
Using a large screwdriver and hammer, hit the lock very hard at the keyholes several times. Once the the screwdriver has gone into the hole try to twist the lock open or just keep punching to push the lock inside of the safes. If the lock does not twist open, once it is punched into the safe you can use you finger to find the button or the latch the lock was meant to spin and manually press / turn it to open the safe.
Often shearing the lock is easier than punching it.
Break off any plastic or other components around the lock so that you can access the lock behind its head (flush against the door – see photo).
Using a large screwdriver or chisel, place it at the top of the lock and hammer it down. When done correctly, you will shear the front of the lock off. Once it is sheared off you can use you finger to find the button or the latch the lock was meant to spin and manually press / torn it to open the safe.
Break the Safe’s Bolt Work
This is the most difficult way to open a safe without a key.
It requires that you find the location of the most central bolt along the edge of the door. Once that is found it is marked top and bottom.
The side of the safe is then drilled central to those two markings so that the face of the bolt can be reached.
A screwdriver and hammer are used on the face of the bolt in to smack the bolt inward in order to break the bolt work or whatever is pining the bolt in and stopping it from retracting.
Tips to Open a Safe by Breaking the Bolt Work
- Use a piece of paper to find the top and bottom of the most central bolt
- Slide the paper into the crack between the door and body of the safe a few inches above the center of the door.
- Then slide the paper down until it stops, this is the top of the bolt.
- Slide the paper into the crack between the door and body of the safe a few inches below the center of the door.
- Then slide the paper up until it stops, this is the top of the bolt.